A neurosurgeon met a fashionista and they fell in love. Initially based far apart, they made the world their carpet and collected from it treasures of antiquity and affection—each marking a moment along a shared trajectory. They bought a home together and these objects became salt to the dish, garnishing silent walls with narratives. This, in brief, is the tale thus far of Damian Lee and Faye Yang. Their abode has only been inhabited for a year since they got married last August, but is timeless for abounding reasons.
Serendipity had it such that the duo had studied in the same junior college prior to being introduced by a common friend. Their match is a pairing of the cerebral and the sensual—a surgeon’s work requires precision and rigour, and Yang’s aesthetically grounded training first in visual arts, and then at Parsons School of Design in New York, schooled her perceptive manner of amalgamating material and emotion. “Art and design is an integral part of me. I have always been drawn to forms, colours and textures, and their interplay with one another. I wanted my home to be layered with different materials, but in an organic way,” says the slender, sociable 30-year-old.
Thus, every corner of the house is a curated mise en scène. It dovetails into social media’s stockpile of styled, beauteous interiors, but is made richer by endearing anecdotes Lee and Yang freely dish out during my visit. “In the initial years of our relationship, I was working in New York as a fashion stylist and assistant, and Damian was in Singapore. He would fly to New York or we would meet each other halfway,” recounts Yang, who now works in the e-commerce business. Their third-storey apartment in a 60-year-old block was by means of a hardworking hunt for a walk-up apartment. They eschewed cookie-cutter condominium units for a dwelling that manifests a certain vintage and spatial generosity—a rare combination in today’s market-driven residential selections. This home on Moulmein Road was ideal for its malleable footprint as well as proximity to the city and the hospital where Lee works.
It is a cosy estate. The singular, L-shaped volume has only 16 units fronted by long balconies. Coincidentally, several neighbours comprise friends or friends of friends. Amidst the city’s discordant clamour made by a commingling of abutting traffic networks and crammed potpourri of neighbours, the home is a respite with atmospheric quietude and a sense of restfulness. At the balcony, the crown of potted olive plants fans upward, highlighted by defined shafts of golden morning light that evoke the sun-washed Mediterranean. Walls that ebb and flow offer elegance and a womb-like comfort. Sinuous marble surfaces with veins that echo the movement of the walls reminisce cultivated European interiors, while black-and-white balcony blinds, timber shutter doors and rattan textures ground the home in its equatorial milieu.
Instead of feeling disjointed, the home feels cohesive thanks to the help of local design studio Asolidplan. “To be honest, we didn’t intentionally create this European versus tropical juxtaposition. The whole idea was to insert some hints of history through our modern interpretation of mid-century aesthetics—prevalent in the ’60s around the time this apartment was built—to respond to the building’s context without tipping into kitsch,” says Lim Jing Feng, a partner at Asolidplan.
“My work involves long hours of surgery and can be demanding. Home is a place of retreat for me where I can feel at ease”
It is hard to believe how different the apartment was prior to its metamorphosis if not for a study of the original plan and a photograph Yang produces of an empty living room, floored with tiles and isolated from the rest of the apartment with a wall. “It was functional and sterile,” elucidates Yang on the initial compartmentalised, dingy interior. The former owner had enclosed the balcony and the home only had one bathroom. A bedroom at the rear muted natural illumination and airflow. “We wanted a home that felt spacious and light. Therefore, we placed emphasis on neutral tones and textures that imbibe a sense of serenity,” says Yang. Adds Lee: “My work involves long hours of surgery and can be demanding. Home is a place of retreat for me where I can feel at ease.”
The balcony was reinstated, replete with ventilation blocks that pay homage to the estate’s epoch. Pragmatic considerations saw space borrowed from the study room to create a second bathroom. Several walls were demolished, including one separating the rear bedroom from the dining area. The space is now anchored with a new dry kitchen counter that expands the home’s social capacity. “People like to hang around here, drink and have conversations,” says Lee.
It is yoked to the wet kitchen through glass walls and flows toward the dining and living upfront. White cabinetry doors with brass handles hide the refrigerator and shelving, reducing visual clutter. “Everything outside [the doors] is neat, everything inside is messy,” Yang says with humour, letting on that Lee was militant about ensuring adequate storage. “Damian is very practical; I’m all aesthetics. That’s a good balance.” This efficacious layout facilitates the couple’s culinary experiments as well as hosting of friends and family. When Lee whips up Chinese dishes, mobile glass panels shut off oily fumes without isolating him from outside activity.
There is now no dearth of light in the home. It streams through the enlarged back windows and clerestory apertures atop the new timber shutters in the dining room. The latter conceals unsightly air-conditioned condensers in a shared air well. Underfoot, engineered timber in a light shade replaces the dated floor tiles, while whitewashed walls reflect light. To soften sharp corners and unify the apartment visually, a language of curves articulates walls, doors, ceilings, thresholds and joinery. It is most palpable in the dining room, where two stoic round columns straddle a floating Grigio Carnico marble-topped dining table. This visual spectacle is architecture, furniture and sculpture all at once. The walls curve around this centrepiece, capped by a lighting fixture formed from an eye-catching composition of graphic and bulbous shapes.
The intriguing column-table construct is testament to the design team’s creative dexterity. “After removing all the non-structural walls, we were greeted with four free-standing columns right in the centre of the house. They demarcate a space where we thought a social [zone] would naturally fit in,” says Lim. The other two columns are incorporated into a short wall and shoe cabinet flanking the living room. The ample unfurnished space between the living and dining areas gives the home a spacious feel. “We wanted negative space as well, so we didn’t mind this empty spot. In the end, it was well utilised. During the circuit breaker, I did yoga here while Damian rode his stationary bike,” shares Yang.
While Yang favours colour in her clothing, she sought to embellish her home with natural materials and an old-world charm. “I like things that are inherently flawed, with aged patina; things that are not mass produced. I enjoy scouring for unique objects. While living overseas, I would visit vintage shops and flea markets whenever I got the chance,” she says on finds such as cherished sequin apparel.
“I like things that are inherently flawed, with aged patina; things that are not mass produced”
Lee, who favours “a coastal aesthetic with earthy hues and a sense of calm”, was happy to let Yang manage the décor. Her uncompromising eye for detail meant a laborious but gratifying process of harmonising custom furnishing and found objects into holistic compositions. “I love to surround myself with furniture and objects that tell our stories. Having things in the house that we can connect with, and that brings joy to us, make it more personal,” says Yang. Some of these accoutrements were found on past travels together. One is a detailed hand drawing in the study room. “It was from our first holiday in Spain. Damian had found this anatomical illustration of the base of a skull in an old bookstore along a small alley in Barcelona,” Yang divulges. On the kitchen wall is a framed seashell she picked up from the beaches of Black Island in the Philippines. Among the ceramic objects and books on the living room’s shelves that appear as if carved into the walls is a small jug bought in Fez, Morocco, from a one-armed shopkeeper who was handicapped in a mining accident.
Also acquired from Morocco is a mirror in the guest bathroom whose organic outline is emphasised with a brass trim. “You can see this similar shade of brass echoing through the house. I’m very picky about what kind of brass was chosen,” highlights Yang unabashedly about her exacting criteria. Items obtained online include a 1920s wooden French Primitive stool, whose rough-hewn textures and clumsy form add charisma to the streamlined interior. “It’s one of my favourite vintage finds. It has aged beautifully and the undulating legs display the craftsmanship of the time,” says Yang. There is also a vintage Thonet chair in the study room that was sanded down and given a chic update with plush sheepskin upholstery. Solid timber wardrobe door handles that she drew up and had manufactured exude an art-and-craft feel with their wavy profiles and subtle indents that accommodate the intuitive grasp of the hand.
“I spent hours on Etsy and Instagram, as well as other online vintage shops; you find a lot of artisans on eBay too. I talked to the owners and formed relationships with them,” says Yang, who clearly revels in these interpersonal connections associated more with brick-and-mortar boutiques. The tactile architectural shell is an apt foil to these pieces. “The house was designed to be a plain canvas so that Damian and Faye can display their collection of furniture and art. The materials selected are natural and rich in texture, such as rattan, timber veneer, and wire mesh and ribbed glass. But we also made sure they do not overpower one another. For example, we added moulding to the bottom of the timber shutter’s panels to add texture but stained them white, ” says Tricia Lee, a senior designer who worked on the project.
The couple’s gravitation toward the colour green manifests in the bathroom tiles and the kitchen’s moss-toned cabinetry doors. Their fervour almost extended to the kitchen countertops but was tempered by the design team’s advice to use white marble instead. “It was selected for its bold grey veins and a tint of yellow stain across the soft white slab. We were looking for a marble that looks like an art piece with veins that form unique patterns and shapes,” Lim elaborates.
On art, a large framed painting with expressive white lines swimming across a navy backdrop is what greets guests in the living room instead of a ubiquitous television. “It is by Katrina O’Brien, titled ‘Dance of the Songbirds’ from a gallery in Sydney called Curatorial+Co. It is tough finding art we both resonate with but when we saw this, we were immediately drawn to its scale, movement and colours,” says Yang. A projector, hidden from view when not in use, replaces the tube. “Faye insisted on not having a television here so that people can make dialogue. I don’t watch television in the day anyway, though at night we watch movies,” says Lee. Without the digital screen, one is attuned to more artful forms of movement: the travel of light across the walls through the day, the curvature of pottery profiles, the rhythmic motion of leaves and of companions traversing the rooms.
Deputy Editor Amelia Chia
Photographer Sayher Heffernan
Stylist Jasmine Ashvinkumar
Hair and Makeup: Greg’O using Keune and Estée Lauder